Auckland v Hampshire, CLT20 qualifier, Centurion October 10, 2012

Unflashy Mahmood proves his value

Azhar Mahmood is not as flashy as Shahid Afridi but he was far more reliable and won the day for Auckland in the most emphatic of ways

There was something symbolic about Azhar Mahmood slog-sweeping Shahid Afridi onto the grass embankment at SuperSport Park in Centurion. The shot brought up Mahmood's half-century, ensured Auckland would seal a big win over Hampshire and secure a spot in the main draw of the Champions League. It also made a small statement about Mahmood's prowess when compared to that of his countryman.

Afridi is thought of as one of the top Twenty20 allrounders. He can smoke the ball a long way, demolish stumps and has the attitude to match the boom-boom. In contrast, Mahmood has spent a long time being under-rated, but he is massively efficient. He was Kent's player of the season in 2011, and ended IPL 2012 with 186 runs at an average of 23.25 and 14 wickets at 23.50 for Kings XI Punjab.

On Wednesday, against Hampshire, Mahmood became only the sixth player to take five wickets and score a half-century in a Twenty20 match. Any MVP status he would have had must have increased exponentially in those few hours, with scouts from the world's Twenty20 leagues taking notes, but for Auckland it was a performance they always saw coming on a big stage.

"This is how Azhar has played for us in our domestic competition and we think he is a world class allrounder," Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins said. "He brings a confidence and a security for our batsmen and he understands how to go about setting and chasing a total. That experience with our younger batters is great."

Mahmood's ushering of Auckland through a fairly straightforward chase was the most notable difference between his performance and that of Afridi. Mahmood was beaten by the first ball he faced, and took seven more to settle in. Afridi tried to pull the first ball he faced, which was not short enough. And the second. And the third.

He was beaten on his fourth attempted pull as well, and was caught at mid-on. The bowler? Mahmood. He worked out Afridi's plan, kept bouncing him, and got his reward. Afridi has not been in top batting form recently. In six matches at the World Twenty20 he managed a top score of 14 against India, but his reputation as someone who dictates the course of a match by sheer willpower precedes any notion of form.

Afridi can come off without warning and today would have been an ideal occasion to do so. With Hampshire struggling with the bat, Afridi's urgency to get on with it was understandable. His method was not. Juxtapose his flashy attempts with Mahmood's level-headed grind and the differences between the two are highlighted.

Afridi is a show jumper, the kind that is not spurred by the sight of a bar placed too high but by the thought of it. He does not always respond to calls to action but he always thinks he will, and that is what makes Afridi so entertaining. When his thought process and his actions are in sync, there is no other cricketer in the world who is more arresting to watch.

Mahmood is the workhorse. Season after season, he has produced. Not of all it has been good produce. Just like in this innings, where he got lucky when he charged Liam Dawson and managed to get the ball just over midwicket, Mahmood has not always had it good. He fell out of favour with Pakistan and is not an automatic choice when discussing reliable, talented, go-to players.

As a measure of how forgotten his vast experience can be, consider that when Hopkins asked every member of his dressing room who had played at the Wanderers before, he also put the question to Mahmood. "Yes, I've been here before," he answered calmly. "I scored a Test hundred here." Mahmood's 136 against South Africa in February 1998 came a week before he brought up three figures in Durban as well.

Even the Hampshire Dimimtri Mascarenhas, whose fury with the pitch could not be masked, had a kind word for Mahmood. "It was a great performance and he is a class cricketer even though he is a bit slow in the field these days," Mascarenhas joked. "And he is also a genuine bloke."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Milind on October 12, 2012, 14:06 GMT

    But shahid Afridi scored a 37 ball 100 in last century. So why select a normal cricketer over Afridi . After all the concept of pure class batting like Dravid, Azhar Mehmood, Chanderpaul, Misbah are made fun of as tuk tuk players while Imran Nazir, Afridi are flamboyant players with a big heart and no technique and baseball type batting technique . The technique of upcoming batsmen in Pakistan bears testimony to the fact that Afridi is role model and not some currect technique tuk tuk time waster batter.

  • Dummy4 on October 12, 2012, 5:05 GMT

    He was my number 1 pick over Shahid Afridi and Abul Razaq. I feel good that he didn't waste his time and got himself well settled in the county teams. Good stuff bro. I can never forget your centuries against South Africa.

  • Alex on October 12, 2012, 1:58 GMT

    he is a good club player. Not sure he can produce in international game when there is expectation and tremendous pressure. He is a production type player

  • Salman on October 11, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    @ RohithMedisetty and others claiming that PCB cannot select Azhar because of his UK nationality. As per Pakistan's citizenship law, residents of Pakistan can have dual nationality with 16 countries and UK is one of them. So he is as much of a Pakistan national as he is a UK national and subsequently he can be selected by both boards atleast theoretically.

  • Dummy4 on October 11, 2012, 9:28 GMT

    Sad, talent is always wasted in Pakistan, I think in Pak Azhar Mehmood is currently 2nd best allrounder after Abdul Razzaq. Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mehmood are far better than medicore allrounders like afridi, hafeez, malik, hammad azam, etc Unfortunately worst and overrated Pak players are chosen ahead of genuis like Abdul Razzaq and quality player like A.Mahmood.

  • Dummy4 on October 11, 2012, 4:55 GMT

    That he scored his first three centuries against South Africa in 1998 is in itself quite an introduction, but what many might not remember is the fact that Pakistan batting, despite it's many riches in those years - Saeed Anwar, Aamer Sohail, Salim Malik, Ejaz, Inzamam, Moin Khan/Rashid Latif, and a tail given to wag in Wasim, Saqlain, Mushtaq, A.Razzaq and Afridi - was highly suspect against South Africa. Azhar's three centuries were all the more amazing in that backdrop, and hence never forgotten by any Pakistani.

    That Pakistan cricket failed to acknowledge and reward this gem of a player only makes sense when you factor in the fact that Pakistan's greatest bowler by a distance, and that is some distinction to hold, Wasim Akram was dropped into retirement by the board.

    Is it any surprise then that Pakistan struggles to find a world class bowling pair after Aamer & Asif brought about their own downfall?

  • Talha on October 11, 2012, 4:10 GMT

    Azhar Mehmood, Saqlain Mushtaq and Rana Naveed had always been unlucky to not represent Pakistan, but they have been given chances and couldn't make most of it. Azhar Mehmood was included in 2004-05 VB Series, but he had awful stats as compared to Afridi who took 12 wickets and scored at 47.5 average with 175+ strike rate against hosts, Razzaq was also in supreme form and took 13 wickets as well and noone can understand why Lee (15 wickets) was awarded Man of Series ahead of these two. Azhar Mehmood came back in 2007's South African tour and World Cup, but again couldn't do much.

    But I already said after BPL that Azhar Mehmood should play T20s for Pakistan. I agree with author, Afridi had perfect stage to shrug off the bad form within minutes but continued pulling on front foot

  • rohit on October 11, 2012, 3:30 GMT

    You guys have to understand one thing. Even if PCB wants to select him , they can't because Azhar is a UK citizen now .

  • Nadul on October 11, 2012, 3:18 GMT

    Great analysis! It is the lost of Pakistan that they are not playing Azhar Mehmood. He seem to be in top form and appears to be mentally tougher campared to lots of Pakistani players, including professor. PCB internal politics is keeping Azhar out of the team. He deserved a chance in both shorter formats of the game. Shahid Afridi is a show man and another jewel of Pak cricket. He needs a break from cricket. He is totally out of form and a walking wicket for bowlers these days. His batting has started to effect his bowling also. He definetly needs a break and counselling. Razaq another allrounder that should be permannetly in the Pak team for at least one more year. One of the cleanest hitter in the game. Shoaib Malik should be out of the team, please. Note sure why PCB is persisting with him after so many failures. Now he will take the Sialkot Stallion down with him as well.

  • Haroon on October 10, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    @Mel-waas The Pakistan Cricket Board is to blame when we speak of cricketers like Azhar Mahmood. He was highly underrated and overlooked for many tourneys, wasnt valued as he should have been so he eventually moved to Britian and continued his successes overseas. One of Pakistan's best allrounders alongside Abdul Razzaq. They actually have many good partnerships together.

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